Sunderland shopkeeper convicted of terrorism charge launches High Court challenge

A prisoner convicted of encouraging terrorism has begun a High Court challenge to new rules aimed at preventing terror offenders automatically being released from jail.

Wednesday, 24th June 2020, 4:28 pm
Updated Wednesday, 24th June 2020, 4:28 pm

Khan had admitted encouraging acts of terror and inciting religious hatred, via his social media accounts, and had been handed a four-and-a-half year prison sentence in May 2018.

He is originally from Birmingham, but was a shopkeeper living in Sunderland when he was jailed by a judge at Newcastle Crown Court in 2018.

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Mohammed Zahir Khan.

His legal team claims the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act is directed against people holding "particular Islamic beliefs" and has a "disproportionate impact" on Muslims.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland disagrees and says Khan's challenge should be dismissed.

Detail of the case emerged at a preliminary hearing in May, when a High Court judge, Mr Justice Garnham, ruled that Khan, who is in his early 40s, had an "arguable case".

Two judges, Lord Justice Fulford and Mr Justice Garnham, are now considering detailed arguments at a High Court trial.

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Hugh Southey QC, representing Khan, suggested to Lord Justice Fulford and Mr Justice Garnham on Wednesday, that new provisions breached rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to liberty and the right not to be held guilty of an offence which did not constitute an offence when it was committed.

He said law changes had produced "inconsistency" and had changed early release arrangements.

Mr Southey had outlined Khan's case to Mr Justice Garnham at the hearing in May.

He said legislation amended an early release regime, and extended the "requisite custodial period", and said terrorist prisoners now had to spend two-thirds of their term in jail before being considered for release, rather than half.

Mr Southey said they could then only be released on licence after a parole board had considered their case.

Khan would have been eligible for automatic release at the end of February, prior to the rule changes, but was now due to be considered for release in November 2020, he said.

Mr Southey had told Mr Justice Garnham that terrorist prisoners were clearly being treated differently from other prisoners.

Sir James Eadie QC, who is leading Mr Buckland's legal team, says Khan's challenge should be dismissed.

He told Mr Justice Garnham, in May, that the legislation was not discriminatory, and that the new provisions applied equally to all relevant terrorist offenders, regardless of "race, religion or otherwise".

Sir James said Parliament was entitled to conclude that terrorist offenders were "to be distinguished on the basis of immediate and significant risk materialising" and the "difficulties in identifying and managing this risk".

The move to change the rules came after the Streatham terror attack in May, when Sudesh Amman stabbed two bystanders with a knife he had grabbed from a shop in London.

The 20-year-old had been jailed in December 2018 for possessing and distributing terrorist documents but had been freed midway through his sentence, less than a fortnight before the attack.

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